STORY & PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
RALEIGH, N.C. - The Big Apple is considered the center of the basketball world by many and, although it's not as true on the girl's side of the sport, upstate New
York tends to get short-shrifted, in terms of notoriety. That changes this year, however, because of a player, Shenise Johnson of Rush-Henrietta High School in
Henrietta, N.Y., who is just too good to go unnoticed.
In fact, it's not going too far on a limb to say the 5-foot-11 guard is one of the top players in the 2008 class. We can hear the chorus all the way from the Rochester
area, saying, "We told ya." But we had to see it for ourselves.
And what we saw is a player with a unique combination of size, strength and shake. Rush is big and physical and can just as soon plant a defender on the block as
cross her over and explode to the cup. In a lot of ways, she is the Eastern version of Jasmine Dixon, the 6-1 Long Beach Poly guard ranked No. 4 in the 2008 class by
HoopGurlz.com. She seems to love contact and has a variety of ways to make plays in response to it.
Johnson is scary in the open court, and once overtook a defender during SRAP's 58-42 victory over Queen City on Saturday night by shifting into a gear few others
have, exploding by and finishing with her left while taking contact for a three-point play. Her speed and lightning fast hands are even more imposing on defense, where
she snatches passes in mid-air, swats away dribbles before the ballhandler even realizes she has been challenged, and converges on passing lanes better than almost any
We didn't see much perimeter shooting from Johnson, mostly because she didn't need it - though she doesn't follow through on short pull-ups in the lane. However, she
does have the strength and vision to make tough passes in traffic, off penetration. Whether she is a point guard could be a question, though few coaches will resist if
she insists on playing that position.
The true point guard, and one of this weekend's big revelations, is Johnson's SRAP teammate, Tyler Ash. The Liverpool, N.Y., guard stands 6 feet 2, giving her unique
vision. And she definitely sees plays many others do not and has the gumption to try executing them. What's more, Ash obviously likes to distribute and is selfish,
sometimes to a fault.
Ash also hit three-points, blocked shots and boarded. She averaged Magic Johnson-like 11 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and three steals for
Liverpool and appears to be the kind of player who could impact the evolution of the women's game.
Main Bracket Play
The final four of the 17U Sponsored Division includes Finest Basketball Club (FBC) with Jasmine Dixon and Nikki Speed against Cincinnati's Finest with recent Tennessee commit Amber Gray in one semi and the Rhode Island Breakers with 6-5 Heather Buck, who's actually from Stonington, Conn., against Blue Chip Elite of Louisville, Ky., in the other.
Two adidas-circuit powerhouses, Exodus NYC and Full Package from Glenview, Ill., surprisingly will play consolation games on Sunday. They hooked up in the game
of the day on Saturday, with Full Package taking a 62-61 decision in double overtime. Exodus, with scintillating Samantha Prahalis at the point and an impressive cache
of bigs led by Shakeya Leary, Alexa Roche and Shenneika Smith, has as much talent as any team in this tournament, but they left the door open to a loaded Full
Package team led by Sarah Boothe and Ashley Wilson.
Exodus squandered control, careening down a turnover-strewn stretch, allowing Ashley Thomas of Loyola Academy to tie the game with a pair of free throws with just
0.1 seconds remaining. Prahalis gave Exodus a 61-60 lead with an explosive drive with 16 seconds left in the first overtime, but Maggie Moocchi tied the game by
hitting a foul shot with four seconds to play. Thomas drew a foul on the first possession of the sudden-death second overtime and hit the free throw for the win.
The defending tournament champs, FBC, are loaded again, especially with the impressive all-around play of UCLA commit Rebekah Gardner, a 6-1 wing out of Ayala
High School in Fontana, Calif. However, their hopes may hinge on the left knee of their best player, Dixon, who injured the joint during her team's 58-41 victory over
the Minnesota Stars on Saturday night.
The Emerald City Legends, which have dedicated this tournament to leader Carly Stowell, who died at the team hotel on Thursday night, won their second and third
straight games on Saturday and will play Indiana's Finest in the semifinal of the 15U Select Division on Sunday morning. The Legends beat the Wake Forest Wizards
58-45 behind 19 points from Morganne Comstock, 13 points from Claire Conricode, nine rebounds from Taylor Brazen and eight assists from Kylie Huerta. Emerald
City then beat the much-taller Team Michigan 54-50 in the quarters. "The girls are playing out of their minds right now," Legends coach Mo Hines said. "And I keep
getting the same response after every game from each kid: 'We are playing for Carly.' " ... The two highest ranked wing-forwards in the tournament - Glory Johnson of
the Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn., who is ranked No. 8 overall by HoopGurlz, and Amber Gray of Lakota West in West Chester, Ohio - were matched up in
bracket play. The two did go head to head, but not throughout. Still, their matchup offered a look at players at the same position who have different approaches. Gray
is the more physical of the two, while Johnson is the more explosive. ... While most middle schoolers are playing in the 15U divisions, Ariyia Williams, an eighth grader
at Wright Magnet in Los Angeles, is playing for the Cal Sparks in the 17U Sponsored Division. Williams, 5-7, has great size, particularly in the shoulders, handles the
ball like a wiz, can throw passes with either hand and is one to keep an eye on.
Gray and Johnson tangle
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Glenn Nelson is the publisher of HoopGurlz.com and the editor-in-chief of Scout Media (www.Scout.com), an online sports network and magazine-publishing company and subsidiary of Fox Interactive Media. Glenn also founded and
coached the Dragons and Northwest HoopGurlz select girl's basketball teams. He previously was a longtime, national-award-winning basketball columnist and writer for
The Seattle Times. His work also has appeared in several national magazines and books. He is co-author of "Rising Stars: The Ten Best Players in the NBA" (Rosen
Publishing, 2002). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.